Mountain

Payson McElveen is Everesting on singletrack

The dual-discipline marathon mountain biker and gravel racer will make an Everest attempt for Rebecca Rusch's Giddy Up for Good challenge.

There’s nothing like a little razzing from the Queen of Pain herself to get someone do to something crazy on the bike.

“[Rebecca Rusch is] really good at making those of us who do shorter and sharper races feel a little guilty,” McElveen told VeloNews. “To the degree that to which she pokes fun at Kate and Colin and me, calling us soft . . . Well, maybe I can finally earn some respect from her!”

Rusch sets a high bar: on Monday, McElveen will attempt to Everest a piece of singletrack trail near his home in Durango, Colorado. His effort to ride the 29,029 feet that are the equivalent of Mt. Everest will be in concert with Rusch’s Giddy Up for Good challenge, in which participants can bike or run one of four elevation challenges in one go. Fundraising from the challenge will benefit COVID-19 relief.

Despite the recent popularity of Everesting, lapping one piece of singletrack from dawn to dusk wasn’t on McElveen’s radar until Rusch asked him to join the challenge. Like many endurance athletes, McElveen has been blessed with an abundance of time and a lack of a specific race goal since both participatory and professional racing shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. After winning the Mid South gravel race in mid-March, McElveen has mostly been at home in Durango and says that he’s as fit as he’s ever been.

“It has something to do with being at home and uninterrupted training,” he said. “I’ve been able to maintain a higher volume load than I have in the past. If I had the opportunity to race right now, I’d have no problem.”

That said, McElveen’s longest ride to date this year is seven and a half hours. For Monday’s anticipated 16 hour marathon, he’s definitely bringing lights.

So, why not aim for a more “reasonable” road climb Everest attempt a la Keegan Swenson or Phil Gaimon?

“I have zero interest in blending in,” McElveen said.

When Rusch approached him with the challenge, McElveen’s first thought was to put together a long ride with a route that included 29,029 feet of climbing, but he decided that the network of accessible trails just wasn’t steep enough. Then, he found one climb that mostly fit the bill.

The Jones Creek Strava segment clocks in at 4.1 miles with 1,551 feet of ascent and an average grade of seven percent. According to McElveen, the second half of the climb trends toward 10 percent. It dips a few times in the middle, which, although not ideal, adds diversity to the ride. Oh, and it starts at 7,754 feet above sea level.

“It starts out in pine forest, and as you climb it turns to Aspen groves and then toward the top, it’s exclusively meadow with scattered Aspen trees — what everyone pictures when they think of high country riding.”

The current KOM for the segment is 30:17, and McElveen hopes to average about 40 minutes per climb and 15 minutes per descent. He’s planning on a combination of “light and comfortable” which means he’ll be riding his Trek Super Caliber with light race tires and, yes, he’s using a dropper post. McElveen said one of the aspects of the Everest attempt that’s most intriguing to him is that it lacks typical “performance-oriented goals.”

In other words: “I may also take my Top Fuel in case I’m completely wrecked eight hours in,” he said.

Although McElveen said he’s had periods of feeling down or lacking motivation during this time of uncertainty around racing, he’s also found plenty of opportunity to reframe his riding. Rather than looking at the Everest challenge from a ‘how well’ he can finish perspective, McElveen is actually wondering if he can even complete the effort. He likened his approach to someone who’s just bought a bike for the first time or dusted off one from the garage for the first time in years.

“They’re not sure if they can ride 1o miles,” he said. “Having spent all of the past few years splitting hairs about performance, there’s something about getting in touch with the whole ‘can I even do this?’ mentality that’s really cool.”